by Nishita Karun with illustrations by Shejin 

In my first year of design school, at my first design methodology class, our professor asked us to define design. Some students spoke about creativity, drawing skills, making a product and so on.  The answer she was looking for, was ‘purpose’. What is design if not purpose? We learnt a new definition that day, design, is to design a design to produce a design, where each ‘design’ has a different meaning exploring the ways that design could influence a process.

Wide scope versus narrow
It took me some time to understand what the value of design was. At the beginning, I saw it as a way of embellishment and creativity. Over four years I began to understand it as a tool to challenge and overcome wicked problems. One fine example I came across, was María Ana Barrera, a service designer at IDEO. Maria wanted to enter the health sector but didn’t want to become a medical professional; this may sound impossible, but today, it is not. Maria entered the sector as a service designer. She tapped the loopholes which existed, by introducing interactions at critical junctures in the system, thereby improving the quality of healthcare. With the power of collaboration, a medical system doesn’t employ just doctors or nurses anymore: it includes service designers, architects, patients, social designers, communication designers and product developers to merge different opinions and find what is best for the ultimate user. Let’s see how this came to be!

How design changes the way we think
While schools teach us to ‘receive, revise and recall’ — the classical design approach drives us to ‘observe, abstract and construct’, giving it a unique analytical perspective. The design approach is underlined by a sense of innocence – we need to become like children again, inquisitive and seeing things afresh. Each project ideally requires that we create a program that suits its specific nature, and phases are driven by exploration rather than processes. This helps us in creating multiple options, leading to new innovations before choosing the best fit to channelize the outcome. While most industries function on an assembly-line system backed with industry specific viewpoints, the room for making generalistic evaluations were scarce. And that is where the designers step in with a third, more human centric perspective. We are able to look at the entire process, and relate needs across diverse fields that we work in, making sure that interdependent systems function optimally in the larger ecosystem.

The expanding role of design
Over the last decades, designers have been at loggerheads with big corporations, explaining how design is about much more than mere beautification. It is about adopting a problem-solving attitude, methods and processes, which can help tackle any challenge, from infinitesimally small usability issues (not so tiny sometimes) to wicked problems (large, complex, and often overwhelming). With design studios taking on worldwide concerns like hunger, clean environments, sanitation, sexual education etc., the day is soon approaching where governance will be merged with design.

In India, major corporations like Wipro, TCS, Godrej etc., are now moving towards a design thinking-based approach with their in-house design research teams. Top MBA programmes like Indian School of Business have started teaching design thinking as a course. Studies at Stanford show that for established firms, the strategic use of design offers an added value, anywhere between six and a half to thirty percent. The world has accepted design as an integral technical component, with its interventions in not just product or communication design, but expanding its branches to organisational design (working and management of structures and roles inside an organisation), social design (dealing with societal issues), retail design, interaction design and many more.

Designers are invited to meetings right when products and services are first conceived, so that they are part of the process from the initial stage. In fact, today, hiring a designer is synonymous to hiring a strategist. At Lopez Design, in our last few projects like Ayushman Bharat (Branding of Health and Wellness Centres) and Partner’s Forum 2018, we created strategic systems which could sustain for a long period. As designers, we tackle needs simultaneously from in-depth and overview perspectives. This move to system-based design setups, more than individual design outcomes, asks for not just holistic thinking, but looking as systems in flux and predicting future needs. Designers, with their ambidextrous capabilities, are a necessity. The era of being fashionistas and plastic fixes is now being replaced with a genuine role for design – to ensure life in all its capacities, has a better place in the future.